Could art be the missing link? Oxford, Ohio, native John Bavaro would probably say yes. His current exhibition in the Duveneck Gallery at the Carnegie Center Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington uses both traditional and digital painting to examine the similarities between humans and non-human primates. The exhibition is a sort of homecoming for Bavaro, who left Cincinnati in 2001 for a faculty post at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.
First, a quick zoology lesson. Primates include humans and various groups of apes and monkeys, including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons, lemurs and others. Bavaro’s project runs the gamut with 73 painted portraits and 18 digital paintings done on his iPhone and printed in large format. The paintings encompass the entire gallery, hung side against side, salon-style. The effect is mesmerizing — it’s hard to tell where the humans leave off and the apes begin. Many of the humans gaze more distantly than their non-human primate counterparts, who grin, frown or stare soulfully. It’s exactly the point that Bavaro is trying to make. “There is as much ‘humanity’ in a great ape as there is wildness in a human being,” he writes in his statement for the show. “And there is a mystery in all of us that art can capture what science cannot.”